Ties That Bind
by Brenda Jackson, contemporary (2002)
St Martin's Griffin, $13.95, ISBN 0-312-30611-3

Hmm, Brenda Jackson had a hardcover with Dafina and now she's also going the trade paperback route at St Martin's as well as writing a sheikh story for that Harlequin house. Such industry can probably be the cause for the author's inability to sever the ties to the frustrating limitations of the romance formula in this, her mainstream novel. (You know it's mainstream when it comes with book club questions at the back of the book.)

Somehow, this book is more like a bad soap with wallpaper history as opposed to, say, being the next The Bronze Horseman epic tale of love and passion and the obligatory depressing ending.

This isn't strictly a contemporary novel, as it spans from the 1960s to present day. Of course, a love story that needs thirty years to be patched up cannot be anything but dysfunctional, if you ask me, but Brenda Jackson's Ties That Bind is special. It's special because while it may drops in events like the Vietnam War and Black Movement and other social events that change the African American society in those times, ultimately they are just wallpaper to a bad soap opera filled with Evil Jealous Hos out to get Our Man and his Special Woman.

Jenna Haywood and Randolph Fuller meet in the 1960s in college, and it's sparks and love all the way. These two people are glossy perfections made life, so it's no wonder they fall in love, no problem. And like the popular high school prince and princess, these two are perfect - perfect! - and it's the meanies around them that are so bad and cause this story to span 30 years.

Like the Evil Momma of Randolph who just want Randolph to marry the Woman With The Right Pedigree, driving poor, perfect Jenna into tears, boo hoo hoo! The Vietnam War conveniently takes Randolph away, leaving Jenna and Evil Momma to duke it out like some mud wrestling thing gone ugly.

Then we have the Ho. Randolph's brother's girl has designs on our hero. Ooh! You know, Hong Kong soap operas stopped using that "the ho raped our hero and the heroine discovers them in action, and just when the heroine almost forgives the hero, the ho ends up pregnant!" so-called plot twist back in the 1980s, but it's nice to see Brenda Jackson keeping that special bad soap melodrama alive and well.

And don't forget Grandma Mattie, the Mary Sue matchmaker always with a wise word for every situation, the ugly Yoda for this overwrought Bollywood melodrama.

I get a kick out of this book being marketed as some serious fiction thing when it is in fact a mediocre soap opera filled with subpar plot devices (evil women, evil women, catfight - meeeow!), until I remember my $13.95 gone to purchasing this book. I can watch bad Danielle Steele movie adaptations on TV for free, heck, All My Children recycles the same kind of pap every day, every afternoon if I want to suffer a brain meltdown.

Character development instead of one-dimensionally dull stereotypes and less "Blame It On The Bitches" nonsense would have gone some way in making this book a little bit more enjoyable.

Rating: 68

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